Solar thermal power has generally proven it can create electricity at a lower cost than PV. With that in mind, the U.S. Department of Energy has decided to spend $60 million over the next five years developing low-cost solar thermal technology. It will also fund projects related to "advanced thermal storage."

According to the DOE, increasing the use of solar energy is an important component of the Administration’s efforts to diversify the nation’s energy sources in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance energy security. U.S. Under Secretary of Energy Clarence “Bud” Albright announced the Solar Funding Opportunity Announcement issuance in his recent remarks to the Energy Marketer’s Association Convention.

“Harnessing the natural and abundant power of the sun and more cost-effectively converting it into energy is an important component of our comprehensive strategy to commercialize and deploy advanced clean, alternative technologies that will allow us to become less reliant on foreign oil,” Albright said. “The Administration’s investment in solar technology will not only bolster innovation, but will help meet the President’s goal of making solar power cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity over the next seven years.”

The FOA makes funding available for projects from industry and academia that develop advanced thermal storage concepts and heat transfer fluids to further increase the efficiency of concentrating solar power plants. DOE anticipates making 10-25 awards through this competitive solicitation. With a minimum 20 percent cost share by the private sector for research and development phases and a minimum 50 percent private cost share for final demonstration phases, the total research investment in advanced solar technologies under this solicitation is expected to exceed $75 million.

CSP systems use heat generated by concentrating and absorbing solar energy to produce thermal energy. This type of solar energy can be used immediately for generating power through a steam turbine or heat engine, or may be saved as thermal energy for later use. Storage of solar energy in this manner removes the intermittency of sunlight, making it “dispatchable” and thus enabling CSP systems to provide electricity day or night.

Applications for this solicitation are due on or before Thursday, July 10, 2008. Funding beyond monies available in Fiscal Year 2008 are subject to appropriations from Congress. For more information on this FOA,